The merits of the Caribbean as a holiday destination are well-documented. Sun, sea, beaches, wildlife, cocktails…we get the picture. And there’s certainly no denying that these are all excellent reasons to visit this beautiful part of the world.
But for me, and for other aviation geeks, the Caribbean islands are also a haven for their airports – and particularly the experience of landing at some of the most stunning (and challenging) runways on earth.
Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited along to view some of the new developments at St Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (known by its airport code of SXM for short). SXM is always highly rated in PrivateFly’s annual poll to find the world’s most stunning Airport Approaches – being named no.1 in 2013.
The final approach over Maho beach is famously low and dramatic, for both passengers and those on the beach below. And there’s the well-known opportunity to ride the fence at the end of the runway. Every planespotter’s dream.
Here’s a slow motion video I took from below, of a KLM 747 coming in to land.
SXM is an essential hub airport in the Caribbean, connecting international commercial flights from the US, Europe and elsewhere, to small regional airlines such as Winair – and to private charters of course – flying on to some of the more remote islands in the region. It was so interesting to hear about some of the airport’s development plans (more to follow on those in a later post).
But its the smaller islands for which aviation performs such an essential role – and where the landings become even more dramatic.
Two of the highlights of the trip for me were day trips to St Barts (also known as St Barths) and Saba. A landing at both of these is something that should be on every aviation fan’s bucket list.
You can only reach St Barts Airport on small propeller aircraft, due to the wind conditions and the short runway length of 650 metres. This makes for quite an entry, to one of the most exclusive luxury travel destinations in the world, as you drop in over the hilltops and the sea.
At PrivateFly, the short flight between St Maarten and St Barts is one of our most popular leisure private charters between November and April. See more: Island hopping in the Caribbean by private aircraft.
Saba is less well-known, but its airport (Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport) has the title of the shortest commercial landing strip in the world.
The island, formed largely by the active volcano Mount Scenery, is tiny, just 13 square kilometres. It has just one main road and offers an unique Caribbean experience for ecotourists and nature lovers. And of course for AvGeeks too. (This also made our Airport Approaches Top 10 in 2015, coming in at number 6).
The landing is almost too dramatic and exhilarating to describe. Pilots landing at Saba have special training (as they do for St Barts). It was fascinating to talk to both pilots about their training for these unique airports and clear to me how much they love their jobs – who wouldn’t?!
And beyond the pilots, it was evident to me how big a role aviation plays in day-to-day life for all who live and work on these islands. It’s an essential lifeblood, connecting all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons.
But the journeys were enough of a reason in themselves for me. These are landings that live long in the memory.
Speak to our Flight Team (24 hours) for advice or pricing on private charter in the Caribbean. Contact us or call +44 1747 642 777.